Fujifilm’s 90mm Makes a Colorful Splash on the Set of Indian Summers 2
Every image in this article is shot with the FX 90mm f/2 (With the exception of the image of the lens it’s self.). To view the EXIF data for ech image click the image.
Fujifilm has a history of producing amazingly sharp prime lenses in their lens lineup. The latest is the newly announced Fujinon 90mm f/2. Like all of my lens reviews, I will not pretend to know more than I do. No focus charts or color bars. I wouldn’t know what to do with them once I photographed them. Frankly, pixel peeping is all fine and dandy, but the real question is how does the lense perform. But there’s a catch: I was given a “pre-production” lens. To be fair, this limits what I can say. Here is how I am going to address this dilemma. I can comment on the looks, the construction and the focal length and hopefully help you decide if you really need this lens.
So to put this lens through its paces I brought it to the set of Indian Summers, season 2, the British (Channel 4) period-drama filmed here in Penang, Malaysia. You may recall I was the Still Photographer for the series last year and I’m back for the first block this year. Sadly, with my return to the USA this summer I’ll miss the final two blocks of shooting.
NEWS FLASH: for all my American readers, Indian Summers, season 1 will be released in the U.S. in Sept’ on PBS. Also, check out the new cast list HERE. I asked Channel 4 if they would let me release a few behind-the-scenes shots and a few cast portraits (all using the new Fujifilm 90mm f/2) and to my delight and amazement they said yes – as long as they could vet them. We wouldn’t want any spoilers would we? But enough talk, let’s get on with the photos and a look at the 90mm.
The official title of this lens is the “Super EBC XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR” with a ∅62. What the heck do all those letters mean? Good question. “Super EBC means Electronic Beam Coating” that eliminates flares and ghosting. I guess this is good, but frankly, I love a good sun starburst at f/16 or f/22. I happen to know, so does the crew shooting Indian Summers. I’ve seen them set up a shot just to get a nice lens flare. Moving on… “XF” means it’s a lens made for their X series of cameras and generally means they have metal barrels and wider apertures. Read “pro level lenses.” “R” simply means it has an aperture ring. This is one of the main reasons I shoot Fuji X. You may think I am a little nuts, but I like having the aperture ring where it’s suppose to be – on the lens – not buried in a menu somewhere. Now, with that said, this is not a mechanical aperture, it’s an electronic aperture. If you remove the lens and move the ring nothing happens. But this is good, because with an electronic aperture you can use the remote app on your phone or iPad and control the f-stop. If it was mechanical, that might be rather difficult. “LM” means Linear Motor used for lens element movement during autofocus. Interestingly enough this lens is alike the ATV of Fuji lenses as it has a Quad Linear Autofocus Motor. This new quad linear motor is suppose to be fast, quiet and accurate, using four magnets for higher torque (or so Fuji says). Lastly “WR” stands for weather resistant so this lens features a weather-and-dust-resistant structure with seven seals on the lens barrel. It can work in temperatures as low as -10℃.
Let’s move on to the lens construction. Remember, this is an XF lens, so we expect the metal barrel and Fuji does not disappoint. This lens, like all of the XF lenses’s made like a tank: solid and well constructed. The aperture ring is tight, but not too tight to move easily with well defined clicks between stops. The lens is said to have 11 elements. I just have to trust that is so. How the heck would I know short of taking it apart? The maximum aperture is f/2 and the minimum is f/16. Speaking of aperture, it has 7 rounded aperture blades so the bokeh should be nice. I can confirm it is pretty stinking nice! Officially it weighs 540g or right at 19 oz. I have quit saying this lens is light or heavy or big or small as it is all subjective and I always get challenged on it. Frankly, I expected a bigger lens over all so when I saw it’s relatively compact size, I was pleased. Below you can see it compared against the 56mm f/1.2, and the 50-140mm f2/8.
Being a 90mm or in full frame speak a 135mm means you have a very narrow angle of view. This is a focal length favored by portrait photographers. Why is this important to mention? Because in many way this will define how you will use this lens. The focus fall off on this lens is dramatic and the bokeh is impressive. For portrait photographers who want to isolate their image by cutting out the amount of busy background this lens works hard at that. Its narrow angle keeps little outside of the subject in the frame and what is there drops off into a milky mess, as seen in many of these images.
However, with that in mind, this lens is not a versatile lens. It is a prime (aka a fixed focal length). There is no zooming except with your feet. For the style of photography I do, it was very limiting. Using a 90mm on the set the day we shot indoors at the “Viceregal Lodge” was almost impossible. To get the shots I wanted I needed to be 10 to 15 ft away from my subject and there just wasn’t enough room with the crew running around doing their job. However, once we shooting moved outdoors, things changed. I now had the space to move around and move forward and backward to get the frame I wanted and in this situation, the lens came into it’s own. Thus has less to do with the lens specifically, it must be noted, and and more to do with the focal length of it.
I never owned a 135mm when I shot my Canon 5D or 1Ds so I can’t comment or compare how this lens stacks up. I will say, I am impressed with the short focus distance I can achieve with the 90mm. I am finding I can get around 2ft (ish) from a subject before it can’t focus. This lens is not a macro lens, but it can get very close. I shot this image of my lunch and the drop off was amazing. I think this lens would work very well for food photographers – using a tripod. The one thing that surprised me was the lack of OIS (image stabilization). f/2 isn’t exactly slow, but it isn’t exactly fast either. One of my frustrations with this lens was shooting in low light. Even shooting wide open at f/2 I still needed to crank up the ISO up to 1000 to get a shutter speed that would keep things sharp. When I shot at 400 or 800 ISO I was getting shutter speeds of 1/40th and 1/60th of a sec. It will be next to impossible to keep a 90mm lens sharp at any of these shutter speeds.
To remind you, this was a pre-production model so I’m not going to comment on the sharpness of this lens. Other photographers I know swear this lens is among the best of the best in Fuji lenses for sharpness. One issue I did have was focusing in lower light but again, the lens I used was a pre-production sample.
Who would use this lens? It is always the case of “the right tool for the right job” As I said earlier, this focal length has been favored by portrait photographers for years. A photographer using this focal length needs to be able to place his subject at a distance and be able to move forward and back without running into walls or other people. I can see it being used in a large studio for portrait work. I think it is perfect for portrait/fashion photographers. By portrait photographers I am not talking about the street photographer who shoots in tight places or does environmental portraits. This focal length would not work would well for these types of images. The angle of view is so narrow that to get any environment into the frame you would have to be standing in the next county to achieve this. However, it would work very well for food photographers. Most food photographers want to isolate the dish they are shooting and drop off the background to a milky pleasant blur. This lens will do that perfectly.
I am certain, even though I only have the pre-production version, Fujifilm has another winner on their hands. If paired with the right subject and location this lens will be a killer option.